BANGKOK, Thailand — For years, zesty Tom Yum Gung soup has been a mainstay of Thai cooking. And now researchers are thinking it just might have cancer-fighting ingredients as well as good taste. “Tom Yum Gung is Thailand’s most favorite soup,” according to Chef Rolf Schmitz of the Regent Hotel’s Spice Market restaurant. “It’s a shrimp soup with herbal ingredients like coriander, lemon grass, lime leaves and even galangal roots.” Also called hot-and-sour soup, the dish often includes straw mushrooms and a variety of chilies.
A recent joint study by Thailand’s Kasetsart University and Japan’s Kyoto and Kinki Universities has found that the ingredients in Tom Yum Gung soup are 100 times more effective in inhibiting cancerous tumor growth than other foods. Scientists are seeking to extract the chemical compounds that are most effective from soup ingredients, said Suratwadee Jiwajindra of Kasetsart University. Research also is focusing on edible plants in the region. “The ratio of the cancer pattern in Asians, especially southeast Asians, is very low compared with the pattern in the European and Western countries,” Jiwajindra said. In fact, Thais have a much lower incidence of digestive tract cancers than people do in other countries.
Traditional Thai cuisine — famed for its heavy use of herbs and spices — has long been known to have health benefits, Jiwajindra said. And despite its spicy taste, Tom Yum Gung continues to be popular, said Schmitz, calling the soup “definitely the best seller if you look into the statistics.” Every month, the soup is “at the top of the charts,” he added. “A day, I’d say we are making 50-60 cups in a restaurant like the Spice Market,” said the chef.
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